Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Fed Economic Letter: "What Is the New Normal for U.S. Growth?"

by Bill McBride on 10/11/2016 04:35:00 PM

From economist John Fernald at the San Francisco Fed: What Is the New Normal for U.S. Growth?

This Economic Letter argues that the new normal pace for GDP growth, in real (inflation-adjusted) terms, might plausibly fall in the range of 1½ to 1¾%. This estimate is based on trends in demographics, education, and productivity. The aging and retirement of the baby boom generation is expected to hold down employment growth relative to population growth. Further, educational attainment has plateaued, reducing the contribution of labor quality to productivity growth. The slower forecast for overall GDP growth assumes that, apart from these effects, productivity growth is relatively normal, if modest—in line with its pace for most of the period since 1973.
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This slower pace of growth has numerous implications. For workers, it means slow growth in average wages and living standards. For businesses, it implies relatively modest growth in sales. For policymakers, it suggests a low “speed limit” for the economy and relatively modest growth in tax revenue. It also suggests a lower equilibrium or neutral rate of interest (Williams 2016).

Boosting productivity growth above this modest pace will depend primarily on whether the private sector can find new and improved ways of doing business. Still, policy changes may help. For example, policies to improve education and lifelong learning can help raise labor quality and, thereby, labor productivity. Improving infrastructure can complement private activities. Finally, providing more public funding for research and development can make new innovations more likely in the future (Jones and Williams, 1998).
CR Note: I've made the argument before, based on demographics, that 2% is the new 4% for GDP.

Dr. Fernald also discussed the impact of education attainment:
[F]uture educational attainment will add less to productivity growth. In recent decades, educational attainment of younger individuals has plateaued. This reduces productivity growth via increases in labor quality, which measures the combined contribution of education and experience. Labor quality has added about 0.4 percentage points to annual productivity growth since 1973. However, by early next decade, labor quality will contribute only about 0.10 to 0.20 percentage points to annual productivity growth (Bosler et al. 2016).

On its own, then, reduced labor quality growth suggests marking down productivity and GDP projections by at least two-tenths of a percentage point and possibly more.